Measles Infection Found to Erase Immune System’s ‘Memory’

(CN) – A measles infection can destroy the memory of a body’s immune system, according to a new study released Thursday in Science Immunology.

A child with a four-day measles rash. (Photo via Wikipedia)

A team of researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the University of Amsterdam have announced a significant breakthrough in our understanding of the measles, a highly dangerous virus that can lead to pneumonia, brain inflammation and even death in some cases. While scientists knew a measles infection wreaks havoc on the immune system, the researchers discovered the measles actually does something far more damaging: it wipes the immune system’s biological memory.

Researchers made this discovery by examining the genes of 26 children who had contracted the measles virus within the past two months. By sequencing the antibodies found in the genetic makeup of the children, researchers found that key immune memory cells – which were active before the measles infection and had been built up over time to protect the body from disease – had vanished from the children after they contracted the virus.

The study reports the destruction of the immune system’s memory essentially returns it to what it was at birth.

Lead author Velislava Petrova of the Sanger Institute and Cambridge University says this effect of a measles infection illustrates how dangerous shortcomings of the human immune system.

“This study is a direct demonstration in humans of ‘immunological amnesia’, where the immune system forgets how to respond to infections encountered before. We show that measles directly causes the loss of protection to other infectious diseases,” Petrova said in a statement.

Researchers note this new revelation on the measles infection threat is more important than ever given the rise of measle cases in recent years. The United Kingdom, for instance – which in 2017 declared measles had been eradicated within the country – recently lost its measles-free status from the World Health Organization as a consequences of increased measles infections.

The United States has seen 1,250 measles cases so far in 2019, the greatest number of reported cases since 1992.

The study emphasizes that in light of falling measles vaccination rates, it is absolutely imperative to ensure that all individuals are vaccinated against this powerful disease to help prevent its global resurgence.

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